Blackouts, Brownouts, and Home Insurance

A summer power outage during a heat wave may have you longing for those cold days of winter, and with summer just underway, officials are preparing for more extreme weather in the coming months. With much of the nation already suffering under a series of heat waves early this summer, it’s a good time to understand what impacts the weather will have on your home and what coverage may or may not be available from your home insurance policy.

In California, a recent article in the Los Angeles Times described officials’ intent to request residents reduce their power usage during peak periods in an attempt to prevent power outages. However, even if you can do everything requested to reduce strain on the system, it’s still possible that you will experience a blackout and its associated problems.

In some home insurance policies, damage resulting from temperature changes resulting from power loss is covered. However, this coverage is usually very specific in that it only covers the damage resulting from a power outage that takes place on the residence premises. This means the problem has to be isolated to your house only and not as the result of a widespread power failure. In fact, some policies actually require the loss of power arising out of your residence happen while the power lines off your premises remain energized. As a result, this section of the policy will not be of benefit in the event of a widespread blackout.

More encouraging is the coverage for food spoilage contained in many home insurance policies. This coverage does not have the same requirements as the power interruption coverage. All it requires is the loss of frozen or refrigerated items as a result of power failure or mechanical breakdown. It does require the power failure to not be a result of you mistakenly turning off the power or unplugging the appliance, though. Additionally, the coverage requires you to take all necessary steps to protect the food from additional damage after the power is out, such as not excessively opening the refrigerator or freezer door. In fact, to protect the food from spoiling, the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests keeping the refrigerator door closed as much as possible. Every time you open the door, cold air is released and the temperature in the refrigeration unit is raised. The USDA indicates refrigerated food will stay safe for up to four hours if the door is left closed. A full freezer will keep for 48 hours if the door is not opened.

After a blackout, it’s not uncommon to experience power surges or electrical spikes when the power comes back on. To protect your electrical appliances and computer equipment, slowly turn items on after the power has returned. If everything comes on at the same time, it can cause a power surge or cause the power to go out again. If your appliances or the electrical system in your home is damaged by a power surge, there is usually limited coverage in your home insurance policy.

As summer wears on and more heat waves are anticipated, this is a good time to review your home insurance policy to understand exactly what coverages you may for future power outages.

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